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February 23, 2014

Leadership Mentoring and Pruning Time

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Written by: Duane Covrig
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Human being, animals and trees need pruning to bear good fruit. Winter is the best time for pruning trees. The weather is cold and the dormant condition is right for pruning without killing the fruit tree. I learnt about pruning for the first time when i was 11 years old.  At that time, we had just moved to the countryside into a house that had few old pear and plum trees on it. The trees  were still bearing fruit and our family had to prune them to keep them going. Over the next couple of years we added dozens of small fruit trees: almonds, walnuts, cherries, peaches, nectarines, prune-plums, and eventually citrus.  All of which needed pruning.

The old trees had been pruned well in previous years as they had the characteristic V-shaped structure. This allows the trees to carry much fruit. However, for years the land had been in the stage of being subdivided for resale and the trees had been neglected. The wood was tough and old which made pruning with a saw necessary. Usually, a simple hand-pruning “scissors” was enough.

There is a focusing power in the pruning process.Amazingly, some of those old trees are producing fruit forty years later. It is amazing what God has designed trees for.The young trees were the easiest to prune. When you have only 5 or 6 twiggy little branches, coming out of skinny little trunk, 1 or 2 snips is all you need the first year, and then 7-10 snips the next year. All the while, you are aiming to get the tree to a V-structure in its early years. In California, where sun and warmth abound, you can count on fruit coming out within two or three years of planting. It is amazing. (Not the same in Michigan where I live now).

Pruning guides the growth of a tree. It helps in creating a structure that can bear the weight of fruit and it helps space the limbs and the fruit so overcrowding doesn’t occur.The emotional impact of working with trees has stayed with me over the years. I realized when life or God or others trim off some parts of me, I realize having less is often like having more. There is a focusing power in the pruning process. (Yes, sometimes life’s cruelty—lightning, pests, dry-rot, etc. takes  off a whole part of something and the arbitrary act of a vicious person.Though,  not always easy and palatable. But by and large, we can be shaped to be more productive by pruning events in our lives).

Working with trees has also given me a deeper appreciation for the importance of good education. The best time to shape growth of individuals is through early education. However, it is not the only time and we should try to work with trees where we find them. In my college years, I remember helping a physician who owned an apple orchard that had gotten out of hand. It hadn’t been cared for and I had to resort to cutting some 2-4 inch limbs off many trees. It is painful, but possible to start late and still get a good crop.

Building on this metaphor, I believe God is at work in the play and counter-play of human events. This helps nations, regions and communities become better. Some get stagnant with the status quo. Some don’t have enough roots— tradition to hold the growth.I am using the tree metaphor as a guide in writing a book on Adventist ethics.  I believe  it would be a useful blueprint for moral development.

I have seen at times the power of attention and pruning in young people. Their energies get channeled in a good way or like a man headed for sexual Sodom gets pruned in an effective encounter.  Pruning in woman reflects enticement by materialism and riches. Consequently women gets re-focused on loving others and sacrificing for her family.

Pruning is part  of our lives as we develop.  I see this at work with participants in our leadership development programs at Andrews University. There is nothing like leading to drop  some unnecessary stuff.  While self-pruning and the gentle pruning of mentors are crucial, the storm of leadership helps to find out what limbs are well grafted.

At times, the wind may be too harsh for growth, but amazingly trials and tribulations  root us down. With this, we  could figure out what should stay and to hold on to as values.  Yes, sometimes circumstances can overwhelm, but if we work with God they can be focusing and maturing.

Rarely is any of this a pretty process. Often it involves dramatic and life-changing events .Over the years I have come to appreciate the individual process and see how it varies by individuals. While pruning and life are complex with each of us will experiencing customized pruning, I see four general types of leadership pruning in scripture.

Samuel Pruning:  this represents an example of  an early start pruning process. An individual here needs to stay focused, and keep simple.  There are leaders who were nurtured early into following Jesus, standing up to evil, and living very modest and frugal lives. They have mentors or family members that prayed often for them and provided support. They have avoided fame or side-stepped it for the sake of a clear calling.  While no one is perfect, they have avoided stupid decisions and kept away from sexual perversion, creed, and the lust for power. These people live long and productive.  I would place Ellen White as a leader in this category and I know several Adventist leaders I have worked with and a Catholic friend who have all demonstrated this “fruit bearing” reality to me.

Nebuchadnezzar pruning: at the other extreme is the man or woman born into a pagan world with pagan values and with pagan motivations. But God is in that life. He has picked that person to be a tree that brings important shelter to others.“With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please.  Now I will give all your countries into the hands of my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; I will make even the wild animals subject to him. All nations will serve him and his son and his grandson until the time for his land comes; then many nations and great kings will subjugate him.” Jeremiah 27:6, 7. The call and work with King Neb can be seen as a secular version of the call of Abraham. Only God can select any one he wants and bless them in order to bless the earth.

For the most part, it was not an easy task to keep this Pagan king on task. That was why Daniel and his friends played a crucial role. (they were like Samuel in their leadership development). In Daniel 4 we see God himself talking to King Neb about “pruning” for better fruit.

What God prefers is to use smaller shears to prune us.

“The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth,  with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the wild animals, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds— Your Majesty, you are that tree. You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth.

 “Your Majesty saw a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump, bound with iron and bronze, in the grass of the field, while its roots remain in the ground. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven; let him live with the wild animals, until seven times pass by for him.’ (20-23). This is not the ideal pruning process. It is the tourniquet of pruning techniques. You use it only just before you uproot the whole tree to kill it and plant another in its place. What God prefers is to use smaller shears to prune us. In verse 27 Daniel mentions those two:

God wants pruning of both types: self-discipline and other-centeredness

“Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.” Self-discipline against the current of financial success and gluttony and pride is vital for leaders to stay humble. But self-discipline can’t lead to greatness if it is not also accompanied by consistent community service to those in need. The right can get so righteous in its self-discipline that it becomes as haughty as the pagan who can become so sloppy in their lives that they live licentiously.

God wants pruning of both types: self-discipline and other-centeredness. Otherwise.Otherwise, what happened to King Neb (read the rest of the story) will happened to every single leader in the world or church. Finally, between Samuel and King Neb, we have gradients of pruning. Some will have more or less guiding love when they are young and others will have disaster prune them over time.

David Pruning :is the pruning of a young man who was neglected by his family and some early social needs. Later,  God channeled him  to care for others. It was through hardship that David experienced molding.  Parental neglect leaves missing components of development, but, praise to God, He can take over as our agent of love and discipline

How has God been pruning you?

John the Baptist pruning. Poverty and seclusion can create a unique tree. The self-discipline of his austere life prepared him to withstand the diseases caused by social, political, and even spiritual perversion. These lives may not be extended like Samuel’s, but they bear the glorious fruit of a selfless life that points to Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice.So how has God, through life and circumstances, been pruning you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fruit trees and humans both typically need pruning to bear good fruit.

In Michigan it is winter and time for pruning trees. It is cold and the dormant condition is about right for pruning to go on without killing the fruit trees.

I was first introduced to fruit tree pruning when I was about 11 years old. We moved from a small house on a small lot to a house in the country that had a few old pear and plum trees on it. They were still bearing fruit and our family had to prune them to keep them going. Over the next couple of years we added dozens of small fruit trees: almonds, walnuts, cherries, peaches, nectarines, prune-plums, and eventually citrus. They also needed pruning.

The old ones had been pruned well in previous years as they had the characteristic V-shaped structure, a pruned frame designed to carry much fruit. However, for years the land had been in the stage of being subdivided for resale and the trees had been neglected. The wood was tough and old so pruning with a saw was necessary. Usually, a simple hand-pruning “scissors” were enough, or for larger limbs missed in previous years, a lopper was needed.

There is a focusing power in the pruning process.

Amazingly, some of those old trees are producing fruit forty years later. It is amazing what God has designed trees to be able to do.

The young trees we planted were the easiest to prune. When you have only 5 or 6 twiggy little branches, coming out of skinny little trunk, 1 or 2 snips is all you need the first year, and then 7-10 snips the next year. All the while, you are aiming to get the tree to a V-structure in its early years. In California, where sun and warmth abound, you can count on fruit coming out within two or three years of planting. It is amazing. (Not the same in Michigan where I live now).

Pruning guides the growth of a tree. It helps in creating a structure that can bear the weight of fruit and it helps space limbs and fruit so overcrowding doesn’t occur.

The emotional impact of working with trees has stayed with me over the years. I realize when life or God or others trim off some parts of me, I realize having less is often like having more. There is a focusing power in the pruning process. (Yes, sometimes life’s cruelty—lightning, pests, dry-rot, etc. lops off a whole part of something and the arbitrary act of a vicious person is not always easily survivable. But by and large, we can be shaped to be more productive by pruning events in our lives).

There is nothing like leading to chop off some unnecessary stuff.

Working with trees has also given me a deeper appreciation for the importance of good education. The best time to shape growth of individuals is through early education. However, it is not the only time and we should try to work with trees where we find them.

In my college years, I remember helping a physician who owned an apple orchard that had gotten out of hand. It hadn’t been cared for and I had to resort to cutting some 2-4 inch limbs off many trees. It is painful, but possible to start late and still get a good crop.

Building on this metaphor, I believe God is at work in the play and counter-play of human events to help even nations and regions and communities become better. Some get stagnant with the status quo. Some don’t have enough roots—community and tradition—to hold the growth.

I am using the tree metaphor to guide in writing a book on Adventist ethics as I find it very useful in thinking about moral development.

I have seen at times the power of attention and pruning as a young person’s energies get channeled in a good way or a man headed for sexual Sodom gets pruned in an effective encounter or a woman enticed by materialism and riches gets re-focused on loving others and sacrificing for her family.

Pruning is part of each of our lives as we develop as individuals. I especially see this at work with participants in our leadership development programs at Andrews University. There is nothing like leading to chop off some unnecessary stuff.  While self-pruning and the gentle pruning of mentors are crucial, the storm of leadership helps to find out what limbs are grafted in well.

Yes, at times, the wind is too harsh for growth, but amazingly trials and tribulations help us root down, figure out what was too loose to stay and hold on to what we value.  Yes, sometimes circumstances can overwhelm, but if we work with God they can be focusing and maturing.

Rarely is any of this a pretty process. Often it is dramatic and life-changing.

Over the years I have come to appreciate the individual process and see how it varies by individuals. While pruning and life are complex and we each will experience our own customized pruning, I see four general types of leadership pruning in scripture:

Trials and tribulations help us root down, figure out what was too loose to stay and hold on to what we value.

Samuel Pruning: Start early, stay focused, and keep simple.  There are leaders who were nurtured early into following Jesus, standing up to evil, and living very modest and frugal lives. They have mentors or family members that prayed often for them and provided support. They have avoided fame or side-stepped it for the sake of a clear calling.  While no one is perfect, they have avoided stupid decisions and kept away from sexual perversion, creed, and the lust for power. These people live long and productive, focused lives. I would place Ellen White as a leader in this category and I know several Adventist leaders I have worked with and a Catholic friend who have all demonstrated this “fruit bearing” reality to me.

Nebuchadnezzar pruning: At the other extreme is the man or woman born into a pagan world with pagan values and with pagan motivations. But God is in that life. He has picked that person to be a tree that brings important shelter to others.

“With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please.  Now I will give all your countries into the hands of my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; I will make even the wild animals subject to him. All nations will serve him and his son and his grandson until the time for his land comes; then many nations and great kings will subjugate him.” Jeremiah 27:6, 7

The call and work with King Neb can be seen as a secular version of the call of Abraham. It is God selecting who he wants to bless in order to bless the earth.

For the most part, it was not an easy task to keep this Pagan king on task. That is why Daniel and his friends played a crucial role. (they were like Samuel in their leadership development).

In Daniel 4 we see God himself talking to King Neb about “pruning” for better fruit.

What God prefers is to use smaller shears to prune us.

“The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth,  with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the wild animals, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds— Your Majesty, you are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth.

 “Your Majesty saw a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump, bound with iron and bronze, in the grass of the field, while its roots remain in the ground. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven; let him live with the wild animals, until seven times pass by for him.’ (20-23).

This is not the ideal pruning process. It is the tourniquet of pruning techniques. You use it only just before you uproot the whole tree to kill it and plant another in its place.

What God prefers is to use smaller shears to prune us. In verse 27 Daniel mentions those two:

God wants pruning of both types: self-discipline and other-centeredness.

“Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”

Self-discipline against the current of financial success and gluttony and pride is vital for leaders to stay humble. But self-discipline can’t lead to greatness if it is not also accompanied by consistent community service to those in need. The right can get so righteous in its self-discipline that it becomes as haughty as the pagan who can become so sloppy in their lives that they live licentiously.

God wants pruning of both types: self-discipline and other-centeredness.

Otherwise, what happened to King Neb (read the rest of the story) will happened to every single leader in the world or church.

Finally, between Samuel and King Neb, we have gradients of pruning. Some will have more or less guiding love when they are young and others will have disaster prune them over time.

David Pruning is the pruning of a young man who was neglected by his family and some early social needs God later channeled into care for others, but it was through hardship that David needed molding.  Parental neglect leaves missing components of development, but, praise to God, He can take over as our agent of love and discipline.

How has God been pruning you?

John the Baptist pruning. Poverty and seclusion can create a unique tree. The self-discipline of his austere life prepared him well to withstand the diseases caused by social, political, and even spiritual perversion. These lives may not be extended like Samuel’s, but they bear the glorious fruit of a selfless life that points to Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice.

So how has God, through life and circumstances, been pruning you?



About the Author

Duane Covrig
I teach leadership and ethics at Andrews University. I am a Seventh-day Adventist eager for the Second Coming of Christ and positive about His judgment hour work (Rev 14:6-12). I use that reality to understand morality and ethics.




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